Relocate Pandacan oil depot in Manila Bay
You can be sure that land developers are now salivating and preparing to bid for the Pandacan oil depot once the Big 3 oil companies—Petron, Shell and Chevron—leave it in 2016. It is a big piece of prime real estate. Imagine the transformation of Pandacan once the shopping malls and condominium buildings rise on it.
Pandacan has one additional advantage: It is beside the Pasig River. So the malls and condos will have two approaches—from land and from the water. Pandacan can have a beautiful riverfront, with restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops, and pretty, comfortable ferries to transport people from other parts of Metro Manila.
There are many cities beside rivers in the world from which we can learn. The nearest I can think of is Sydney in Australia, which has a river running from the sea to downtown, where the famous Sydney Opera House can be found. The most expensive houses in Sydney line this river. And there are 24-hour ferries running from downtown to the entrance to the bay. You can watch a concert at the Opera House, have a late dinner at one of the downtown restaurants, then take the ferry and be home in less than 30 minutes.
A ferry of this sort may transform the Pasig riverfront from the present ugly backyards of factories and residences into the front yards of luxury homes, each of which will have a boat landing.
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But the big problem remains with the three oil companies. Where will they relocate? The chances are that wherever they relocate, it would be like the Pandacan oil depot after several years—surrounded by houses. And then the whole rigmarole will start all over again: The local government will send the oil companies away because of the danger they pose to the surrounding homes.
That part of Pandacan on which the oil depot sits was nothing but wasteland when the oil companies moved there. The residences were far away.
Through the years, however, people built their houses closer and closer to the depot, right to the very edge of its fence. In other words, the depot was there first, the residences came later. But now it is the depot that poses a danger to these residences.
What I am driving at is that wherever the oil companies move, the same thing will happen: People will build their houses closer and closer to them, and inevitably the depot would be considered a danger to the community. With the huge quantities of flammable fuel stored in its tanks, a depot is really an accident waiting to happen. A fire can swiftly spread to surrounding homes.
The solution, therefore, is to transfer the depot to a place where people cannot build their homes close to it. And where is that place? In the sea, of course. The depot will be surrounded by water, and when a fire breaks out it cannot spread to surrounding houses. And the people cannot build their houses close to the depot unless these are houseboats.
Why not reclaim part of Manila Bay and put the depot there? In that way, the new depot would still be close to its primary market—Metro Manila. And there are already pipes running from the Batangas oil refineries to the Pandacan oil depot. With mere reconnections, fuel can begin flowing as soon as the new depot is ready. Barges can also transport the fuel to its destinations by water.
If the new depot will be built on land, imagine the load and congestion that fleets of overland tankers going to and from the refineries will bring to the highways and streets. With barges using the sea and rivers instead, the roads will be relieved of some of the additional pressure.
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What Manila needs now is urban renewal. Although we see new buildings rising here and there, much of Manila is decaying. For example, Rizal Avenue (or Avenida Rizal), which used to be the primary street of the city, has deteriorated so much that people are afraid to traverse it at night. The LRT 1 overhead railroad has improved mass transportation in the area, but it has also helped kill Avenida Rizal. It has made the street under it dim by day and ominously dark by night. All the shops and stores on this street have suffered, with shoppers going to Makati, Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas Center, Araneta Center, and Greenhills instead.
Downtown Manila, which is composed of Escolta, Plaza Sta. Cruz, Rizal Avenue, Carriedo and Quiapo, has become no more than a shabby collection of dilapidated buildings. Claro M. Recto Avenue is now but a jumble of stores selling second-hand books, stolen cellphones, and fake documents. Plaza Lawton (now Plaza Bonifacio) which used to be dominated by the Metropolitan Theater, parks and a minizoo, and the imposing Post Office building, is now just a place connecting the north and south districts of Manila.
The Metropolitan Theater has been abandoned and is now a derelict. The Post Office is losing business and importance to the electronics age, and the government is thinking of selling the building. The parks are gone, and are now being used as mere parking lots for City Hall vehicles.
Again, we have the lesson of another Asian city, Singapore, to learn from. Singapore razed much of its slums and constructed new office, residential and commercial buildings. I think we can do the same thing.
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